Since its inception, the Ransom Center has been best known for its collections of British and American modern and contemporary writers. The Center has complete, or nearly complete, runs of first editions of all the principal novelists, dramatists, and poets of the modern period (roughly 1880-1950). These are often supplemented by translations, reprint and transcontinental editions, and copies signed or inscribed by the author. Cyril Connolly's One Hundred Modern Books (Austin, 1971) serves as an excellent illustrated introduction to the pre-1950 author collections.
Descriptions of a few of the most important collections follow:
The Ransom Center holds over 500 printed volumes of the writings of Samuel Beckett, complementing its extensive Beckett manuscript holdings. Many of the Center's early Beckett holdings arrived with the T. E. Hanley library in 1958. In 1976 the Center acquired the John and Evelyn Kobler collection, which includes 175 first and early editions (of which 89 are presentation copies from Beckett, 26 are inscribed by Beckett, and three are presentation copies from others), 53 books and pamphlets containing contributions by Beckett, and 112 periodical issues containing contributions by Beckett. Other collection strengths include numerous foreign editions and translations and further important editions in the Carlton Lake book collection. Many of the Center's important Beckett holdings are surveyed in the web exhibition Fathoms from Anywhere.
Ray Roberts, Fowles's editor at Viking Penguin, collected editions of this novelist's work in preparation for a bibliography. This collection, now at the Center, is remarkable for the wide range of materials it contains: the standard hardback British and American editions, paperback reprints (including movie "tie-in" copies), proofs, advance reading copies, filmscripts, movie memorabilia, reviews, books and articles about Fowles, and publisher marketing materials.
All of Joyce's works have been collected in depth. The holdings for Ulysses are exceptional and by far the largest in the world: the Ransom Center holds 36 complete copies (of 1,000 printed) of the first edition (Paris, 1922), including four of the first 100 signed copies printed on Dutch handmade paper. There are eight presentation copies of the same edition as well as copies from the libraries of Compton Mackenzie, Alfred A. and Blanche Knopf, Louis Zukofsky, and T. E. Lawrence. Many of the later editions in English of the novel are represented, as well as translations of Ulysses into all the major European languages. Supplementary book collections include Joyce's own Trieste library and the library of the late Joyce scholar Joseph Prescott.
D. H. Lawrence
Books gathered by Lawrence's bibliographers Edward D. McDonald and F. Warren Roberts, together with portions of the T. E. Hanley library, form the basis of the Ransom Center's comprehensive Lawrence Collection. It is one of the most bibliographically complete author collections and contains 2,000 volumes of first and important later editions, many in multiple copies, textual and binding variants, and copies inscribed by Lawrence. The Center also holds the largest collection of Lawrence's manuscripts.
T. E. Lawrence
The Center's archive of T. E. Lawrence ("Lawrence of Arabia"), is complemented by early and notable copies of his published works. Illustrating the complex publishing history of Seven Pillars of Wisdom are proof sheets of the first eight chapters (forming the prospectus) of the privately printed edition of 1926, including the chapter that was later suppressed; three of the twenty-two total copies privately printed in New York in 1926; two of the 1926 London "complete copies," signed "T. E. Shaw" and illustrated by Eric Kennington; and several of the 1935 "first editions," London and New York. First editions of The Wilderness of Zin (1915) and Carchemish (1914) are also present.
When the Ransom Center acquired Mailer's massive archive it also acquired Tom Fiske's extensive collection of the novelist's books and periodical appearances. Since much of Mailer's journalism originally appeared in magazines and newspapers, the collection provides an invaluable supplement to his papers.
The Nina W. Matheson collection of Vladimir Nabokov was purchased in 1979. Among its 596 items are fourteen rare pre-1940 Russian-language editions, including Stikhi, Nabokov's first surviving book, privately printed in St. Petersburg in 1916, and his Russian translation of Alice in Wonderland, over 200 English-language editions, many in textual or binding variants, and almost all of the rare periodical issues in which Nabokov's Russian-language novels first appeared.
This key figure in the modernist movement, who influenced writers as diverse as James Joyce and W. B. Yeats, is completely documented. Holdings begin with Pound's extremely scarce first two books, A Lume Spento and A Quinzaine for This Yule, and end with posthumous editions of the Cantos. In addition, the Center owns one of Pound's personal libraries. The extensive Pound manuscript holdings include hundreds of letters by Pound and the corrected page proofs for Hugh Selwyn Mauberly.
George Bernard Shaw
The Shaw collection is the largest and most comprehensive single-author gathering in the Ransom Center. The bulk of the Shaw rare books and manuscripts was acquired with the T. E. Hanley library in 1958. The book collection contains over 1,200 books, pamphlets, and periodical appearances by Shaw; some are amusingly inscribed to theatrical colleagues, friends, and admirers. The related manuscript collection contains a large number of Shaw's plays in versions varying from drafts to rehearsal and directors' prompt copies, along with hundreds of letters to and from Shaw and his wife Charlotte, agreements with publishers and producers, as well as diaries, scrapbooks, and financial records.
Consisting of over 900 volumes, the Ransom Center's collection of Steinbeck materials includes many signed firsts, multiple later editions, and translations into more than fifty languages. Highlights include two first editions of Steinbeck's first published work A Cup of Gold; a publisher's prospectus for Grapes of Wrath; and an annotated presentation copy of Steinbeck's Nobel Prize acceptance speech (1962) inscribed to his friend and editor Pascal Covici. The bulk of this collection was acquired with the Adrian Homer Goldstone library, which, along with the Center's existing holdings, formed the basis for Goldstone and Payne's John Steinbeck: A Bibliographical Catalogue (Austin, 1974).
Manuscripts of all of Waugh's novels (except for two), much correspondence, and the entire contents of Waugh's personal library, including some of the furniture and works of art, arrived in Austin in 1967. The Ransom Center's collection of Waugh first editions was completed in 2006 with the addition of his suppressed pamphlet An Open Letter to His Eminence the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster (1933), thought to exist in only a single copy. The Anthony Newnham collection of Waugh provides an additional layer of bibliographical depth.